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Normal Marching Band heads to Chicago Thanksgiving Parade

Members of the Normal Marching Band rehearse ahead of their performance in the Chicago Thanksgiving Parade this Thursday.
Ryan Budzinski
Ryan Budzinski
Members of the Normal Marching Band rehearse ahead of their performance in the Chicago Thanksgiving Parade this Thursday.

It's around this time of year that the Normal Marching Band is gearing up for next season. There are plans to lay out, music to select and routines to learn.

But this year, NMB has some extra work on its plate after the 120-member band received its first-ever invitation to march in the Chicago Thanksgiving Day Parade. They'll be there live, but the parade also will belive streamed via the organization's Facebook page from 8-11 a.m Thursday morning.

"This is our first joint venture outside of what a more typical contest would be," said band director Ryan Budzinski "An invitation like this, especially with this being our first one, is very exciting because it is built off the hard work that students have done in the three years prior to this invitation."

In particular, it's a significant step for the band since it's only been in existence for about four years. The Normal Marching Band was formed by bringing together members from marching bands at Normal Community High School and Normal Community West High School a few years ago. That its first few years of existence included more than a year-long pandemic that upended traditional practices didn't help matters, but Budzinski said students worked hard regardless of the challenges.

"I think every band director says this, but we believe we have some of the finest students in central Illinois ... And they really bought into everything we asked of them so that they could keep making music," he said. "Last year's season looked really different because it was behind a video screen and not with a live audience, but they worked... to have a great season where we submitted virtual videos to competitions and things like that."

NMB drum major Shelby Hailey said she hasn't forgotten the unique challenges COVID-19 protocols created for band practice.

"Last year, from a student's standpoint, it was really difficult because that was at a time where we had to wear masks outside, in 90-degree weather. That was not a fun part," she said.

Braden Pool said students had to learn a "new normal" in practices that was unlike anything he had been used to before.

"It wasn't too easy," he said. "Coming back this year to more of an open idea of marching band really allowed us to express ourselves more and get out there and perform a lot better."

Budzinski said nothing can duplicate the feeling of performing in front of a live audience, which is partly why the Chicago invitation matters so much after the past 18 months.

"A lot of us had to cheer socially distant and from over the internet last year, so to be able to do that and then to culminate this season going down State Street with with tens of thousands — maybe more than that — supporting those students along the route (is) a really exciting way to end the year," he said.

Asked whether NMB members were nervous or excited for the event, Pool said that overall, students are eager to perform.

"I'm sure some of us are nervous... but I think we all know that from our practice and rehearsals that we are going to perform very well," he said. "We're really excited to end the season on a really high note."

Hailey said she remembered the band hall buzzing with excitement once the invitation arrived a few weeks ago.

"I know going to practice everyone's just chit chattering about what we're going to wear, about the outfits, everything. We're all very excited," she said.

Lyndsay Jones is a reporter at WGLT. She joined the station in 2021. You can reach her at lljone3@ilstu.edu.